Although the purification of microtubules from brain by alternate cycles of polymerization and depolymerization in vitro has become routine, the application of this method to non-neural cultured cells has been less successful. Previous investigations have suggested that it was necessary to use substrate-grown cells and 4 M glycerol to obtain microtubules from cultured cells. We have developed a method for preparing microtubules from HeLa cells in spinner cultures without the use of glycerol. Microtubules can be readily carried through two complete cycles of polymerization at 37 degrees C and depolymerization at 4 degrees C in vitro. The microtubules obtained are morphologically similar to brain microtubules in electron micrographs, and the tubulin subunits have mobilities similar to those of brain tubulins on polyacrylamide gels. Typical yields in the second polymerization pellet are about 1 mg protein/ml of packed cells or 2.5-3.0% of the total protein in the soluble cell extract. The major nontubulin protein present after two cycles of polymerization and depolymerization has an apparent mol wt of 68,000 daltons. If glycerol is used during polymerization, this band is virtually absent.

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